Physical Therapist and Physical Therapist Assistant
What Does a Physical Therapist Do?
Physical therapists (PTs) provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy. The goal of the physical therapist is simply to increase a patient’s strength, endurance, coordination, range of motion, and to relieve pain and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities.\
How Do I Become a Physical Therapist?
In Virginia physical therapists must graduate from a school of physical therapy approved by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and pass an exam approved by the Virginia Board of Physical Therapy. Many colleges and universities have changed their programs from a bachelor’s degree to a post-baccalaureate degree known as the doctor of physical therapy degree (DPT).
What Does a Physical Therapist Assistant Do?
Working alongside physical therapists, physical therapy assistants administer and assist with all types of physical therapy treatments, instructing, motivating, and assisting patients with learning and improving functional activities. They may give massages, administer electrical stimulation, give paraffin baths, or treat a patient with hot and cold packs, traction or ultrasound. They monitor patients' response to treatment, keep progress records, and make reports to the physical therapist. They also maintain patient records. In the course of their work, PT assistants usually work with patients suffering from a variety of problems, including back pain, arthritis, fractures, head injuries, cerebral palsy, heart disease and more.
The work of PT assistants differs from that of physical therapists in that assistants are not so much engaged with planning a course of treatment as administering it.
Most physical therapy assistants work in hospitals or offices of physical therapists. Others work in nursing and personal care facilities, outpatient rehabilitation centers, doctors' offices, and home health agencies.
How Do I Become a Physical Therapist Assistant?
Physical therapy assistants in Virginia need a state license. Licensure requires a two-year associate’s degree and certification in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and first aid.
Without further education and training, advancement opportunities for physical therapy assistants are few. Advancement to full-scale physical therapist requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physical therapy and a license from the state.